The Other Face of the Moon


Gathering for the first time all of Claude Lévi-Strauss’s writings on Japanese civilization, The Other Face of the Moon forms a sustained meditation into the French anthropologist’s dictum that to understand one’s own culture, one must regard it from the point of view of another.

Exposure to Japanese art was influential in Lévi-Strauss’s early intellectual growth, and between 1977 and 1988 he visited the country five times. The essays, lectures, and interviews of this volume, ...

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The Other Face of the Moon

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Gathering for the first time all of Claude Lévi-Strauss’s writings on Japanese civilization, The Other Face of the Moon forms a sustained meditation into the French anthropologist’s dictum that to understand one’s own culture, one must regard it from the point of view of another.

Exposure to Japanese art was influential in Lévi-Strauss’s early intellectual growth, and between 1977 and 1988 he visited the country five times. The essays, lectures, and interviews of this volume, written between 1979 and 2001, are the product of these journeys. They investigate an astonishing range of subjects—among them Japan’s founding myths, Noh and Kabuki theater, the distinctiveness of the Japanese musical scale, the artisanship of Jomon pottery, and the relationship between Japanese graphic arts and cuisine. For Lévi-Strauss, Japan occupied a unique place among world cultures. Molded in the ancient past by Chinese influences, it had more recently incorporated much from Europe and the United States. But the substance of these borrowings was so carefully assimilated that Japanese culture never lost its specificity. As though viewed from the hidden side of the moon, Asia, Europe, and America all find, in Japan, images of themselves profoundly transformed.

As in Lévi-Strauss’s classic ethnography Tristes Tropiques, this new English translation presents the voice of one of France’s most public intellectuals at its most personal.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
This new slim compendium of eminent anthropologist Levi-Strauss's lectures, interviews, and musings reflect his adoration and intellectual curiosity about all things Japanese. Interweaving moments of personal and professional significance, Levi-Strauss (Tristes Tropiques) recounts the trajectory of an intrigue generated by a childhood fascination with Japanese prints given to him by his father that later evolved into his love of Japanese literature, food, and practices. Between 1977 and 1988 he visited the country five times with his wife and this provides the basis for his attentive anthropological analysis of Japanese cultural practices concerning religion, music, and everyday life. Most compelling is his discussion of Japanese myths and their resonance with certain themes in the folk-tales of South America, Europe, and the indigenous populations of the Pacific Coast. At times laudatory to a fault, this is not a collection of overwhelming scholarship; rather it is a telling portrait of the intellectual captivation and curiosity of a pivotal figure in the history of anthropology. This collection illuminates the zeal that motivates Levi-Strauss's anthropological work and is therefore a pleasant read for anyone with an interest in Japan, cultural difference, or anthropological studies. Photo insert. (Mar.)
Times Literary Supplement - Patrick Wilcken
Lévi-Strauss was certainly not the only French intellectual to develop a fascination for Japan. Indeed, Japan's sculptured landscapes, highly stylized rituals and philosophies of self-denial struck a particular chord with his structuralist contemporaries, Roland Barthes and Michel Foucault. But the impressions gathered here are distinctively his, and indeed sometimes read as if they were lifted straight from the Mythologiques... There is much to admire [here]... Still fizzing with ideas as he approached eighty, Claude Lévi-Strauss never relented on his increasingly lonely structuralist quest. His fascination for Japanese traditions, similar to his lifelong obsession with ethnography in general, stemmed in part from his feeling of alienation from modernity.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674072923
  • Publisher: Harvard
  • Publication date: 3/5/2013
  • Pages: 192
  • Sales rank: 1,502,306
  • Product dimensions: 4.60 (w) x 7.20 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Claude Lévi-Strauss was chair of Social Anthropology at the Collège de France (1959–1982).

Junzo Kawada is a cultural anthropologist in Japan.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter 4: Herodotus in the China Sea

I n May 1 9 8 3 , after a stay in Tokyo, I was given the opportunity to accompany two Japanese colleagues who were pursuing their research in Okinawa and in the neighboring islands of Iheya, Izena, and Kudaka.

Since I have no knowledge of the language or a fortiori of the local dialect, I will not claim that my

observations add anything whatever to the many studies on Ryukyu culture that have been conducted

for nearly a century by Japanese, American, and European scholars (including a Frenchman, Patrick Beillevaire, who is in attendance today). I took part in my colleagues’ investigation as a spectator, from time to time venturing a question, which they were kind enough to translate for me, along with the informant’s response. The pages that follow have no other ambition, therefore, than to serve as a backdrop to an incident—the only one, of all those I noted down, that may have some originality—which it does not seem out of place to include in a miscellany in honor of a Hellenist.

The incredible population density of the coastal zones leaves anyone visiting Japan for the first time dumbstruck. That is not at all the case in the Ryukyu Islands: with its subtropical vegetation,limited in height by typhoons and reduced near the sea to a very dense thicket of pandanus, no human presence can be detected for one or sometimes two kilometers.

Even there, however, evidence abounds, largely imperceptible to the untrained eye, of a highly

original culture, one that, amazingly, is recognizable as that described by the first observers in their


A main street, running north to south, still divides each village into halves. These moieties continue to supply the two teams that face off every year in a tug-of- war (two ropes are used, each folded back on itself and hitched one inside the other by their loops), each trying to make the other side lose its footing.

Depending on the village, one may expect the success either of the east team, which incarnates the masculine principle, or of the west team, incarnating the feminine principle, inferior to the first but guarantor of human fertility and the prosperity of the fields.

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